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The grand old man of South African Cricket

Copyright © The Author, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There are many distinguished cricketers from this country who have had long and successful sporting careers wearing the national colours. What can be keenly debated is who should have pride of place at the top of the list. That would spark another debate on what criteria should be used to rank the players. If one were to base the criteria on the length of a test career and consistency then surely Dave Nourse would be a candidate. Dave appeared in forty five official tests for South Africa plus a further seven unofficial tests making the total number of appearances fifty two in all. In today’s world with the advent of more frequent international competition, this figure has been overtaken but in the eighty odd years before isolation came in 1970 no player had appeared more often for South Africa. The closest being Johnny Waite, the long serving wicket keeper/batsman of the 1950’s and sixties who appeared in fifty test matches.

What is truly remarkable about Dave Nourse’s record is that his appearances were in consecutive test matches that stretched over a twenty three year period from 1902 until 1925. A Testimony to his physical powers of endurance is that his career at first class level lasted for thirty nine seasons which stared with his debut in 1897 for Natal and ended in 1936 when he made his final appearance for Western Province, after which he continued to play first league club cricket in Cape Town till he was well past the age of sixty. In his day he rightly earned the sobriquet of the ‘Grand Old Man of South African Cricket ’.

Dave, who was christened Arthur William Nourse was born at Croydon in England on the 26th January 1878. He joined the British Army at a very young age as a boy drummer and arrived in this country in 1895 when his unit, the West Riding Regiment, was posted to Pietermaritzburg, for a tour of duty. That area of Natal was cricket mad at the time and when the regiment arrived, the local authorities immediately included them in the first league, to replace the previous regiment which was on its way to India. The West Riding Regiment were not cricket players and Dave Nourse who had hardly played the game previously was drafted into the team. He soon made a name for himself with both bat and ball and he always claimed in later years that he learnt the game and developed his skills entirely in this country. The many opportunities that prevailed in Pietermaritzburg and the surrounding districts for playing the game laid a solid foundation on which he was able to build his career. By 1897, two years after arriving in this country, he made his first class debut for Natal in the sixth Currie Cup Tournament which was held in Johannesburg. His travelling arrangements there were of necessity clandestine as the Transvaal Republican Government of President Paul Kruger would not allow any military person in uniform to cross the border.

His debut match in this tournament was against Eastern Province and he made an immediate impact when batting at No 8 scoring 61 runs in the second innings. Solid contributions in the other fixtures at the tournament cemented his position in the provincial team. The next year, 1898, when his regiment was posted to India, Dave decided to buy his discharge from the army and remain in South Africa. He moved to Durban where he joined the local borough police and he continued to have ample opportunity to develop his sporting talent. It was not only at cricket that he excelled but also in rugby, representing Natal in the 1906 provincial tournament, soccer in which he also won his provincial colours and rowing, being a member of the Durban Rowing club.

Cricket remained his first love and Dave was to represent Natal for the next twenty eight seasons up until 1925, when he moved up to Johannesburg for a short spell playing for Transvaal, and then down to Western Province whom he represented from 1927 until 1936 by which stage he had reached the age of 58. In his last representative match which was against the powerful Australian side he top scored with 55 runs scored against an attack which included the legendary Bill O’Reilly. Notwithstanding his age he then bowled fifteen overs claiming two wickets for only twenty seven runs. Throughout his career his reputation was built on the foundation of a talented but patient left handed batsman who could accumulate runs all round the wicket. In his youth he often opened the bowling with his left arm medium paced swinging leg cutters, but in his later years he developed into a cunning slow bowler. In the field nearly his whole career was spent in the slips where his enormous hands were of considerable advantage to his reputation of being a brilliant slip fielder. In his long career Dave Nourse amassed over 14000 runs, took 305 wickets and held 173 catches.

The outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war in 1899 was to interrupt his career and he joined up at the outset serving throughout the conflict with the Durban Light Infantry. When peace returned to this country it signalled the start of the first ‘golden age’ of South African cricket in which this country established its reputation in the International arena with Dave destined to play a major role in the teams achievements

His first appearance at international level, was against the 1902 Australian side who made a short tour of this country on their way home after a tour of the U. K. He made an immediate impact scoring 72 runs in the first innings of the First Test. This was the first sporting contact that our cricketers were to have with Australia and it is interesting that the international matches were immediately given ‘test’ status, somewhat different to the English teams who were quite happy to contest test matches in this country but South Africa had to wait until it’s fourth tour of the U. K. before we were granted permanent test status.

South Africa and Dave had to wait another three years before the next international side visited us. This was in the 1905/6 season when an English side, under the captaincy of ‘Plum’ Warner, contested a series of Test matches. The first was played at the old Wanderers ground in central Johannesburg. Inn a closely contested match South Africa were eventually left to score 287 runs for victory. An early collapse left us at 105 runs for six wickets but this setback was overcome to a large extent with a 121 run partnership in even time for the seventh wicket between Gordon White who eventually scored 81 and Dave Nourse who was batting at No 8. The English side were then able to make another break through collecting another two quick wickets, so that when South Africa’s No 11 Percy Sherwell, the captain and wicket keeper, arrived at the crease to join Dave forty five runs were needed for victory. Slowly but surely, with the capacity crowd at fever pitch, the two South African batsman edged towards the winning target. The honour of hitting the winning runs was appropriately Percy Sherwell, who played a fine captains innings, being twenty two not out at the end. Dave Nourse who had batted for over four hours was undefeated on ninety three which set the record for the highest score on debut in a test against England.

South Africa had being playing international cricket against England for seventeen years and this was the first taste of success. One can imagine the crowds reaction. In making their way off the field and into the members pavilion Dave led the way up to the changing rooms which were on the first floor. At the bottom of the stairs George Kempis, who had toured the U. K. with the first South African side in 1894, and who was now a well known benefactor of our cricket stopped Dave and congratulated him on his innings by placing a gold coin in the palm of his hand. The other spectators, in the members pavilion, on seeing this put their hands into their pockets and did the same thing which resulted in Dave receiving a tidy nest egg for his efforts. Another spectator bought the bat that Dave had used and presented it to the Wanderers club where it still has pride of place at Kent Park.

The South African side having the experience of playing continuously on matting wickets which were then in use at all venues in this country proved too strong for the visitors and went on to win the series by four matches to one. Dave’s contribution was to end up in second place on the batting averages at 48.33 whilst on the bowling front, he was used in support of the spinners who took the majority of wickets, but nevertheless managed to top the averages, taking six wickets at an average of 12.83 runs per wicket. The good he displayed in this series continued through to the next season when he scored nearly six hundred runs in his seven innings in the Currie Cup competition at a batting average of 98.16. In addition he claimed 24 wickets with his leg cutters at an economical rate of 11.75.

This form made him an automatic choice for the 1907 Springbok tour of the U. K. where he was again in form scoring four centuries and amassing in total 1329 runs as well as taking 27 wickets. Five years later Dave was to tour the U. K. again and this time he increased his run tally to 1762, with a top score of 213 not out, and heading the batting averages. His bowling contribution of 50 wickets at a respectable rate of 24.64 made him an indispensable member of the touring team. Age did not seem to affect his ability for twelve seasons later, at the age of 46, he made his third and final tour to the United Kingdom again meeting with considerable success increasing his total of runs scored to 1943 at an average of just below forty, being second to his captain, Herby Taylor, and by now a slow bowler he added another 27 victims to his tally.

Whist he was only to make one tour to Australia which was in the 1910/11 season he was again very successful averaging over fifty five runs with the bat and claiming twenty wickets with the ball. What is an unusual record of Dave’s is the time span between his first and last appearance against the Australians - 34 seasons had passed. In today’s world it would be asking young Paul Adams, who played in the recent home series against the Aussies, to finish his career in the season 2031/32 !.

The very length of his career led Dave to set a number of records some of which are likely to stand for all time, such as the feat at 55 years of age of scoring an undefeated 163 runs for Western Province against Eastern Province. In all he scored seven double centuries in his career which is still the South African record and his highest score of 304 not out stood as the national record for twenty years. He was the first left handed batsman from this country to score a test century and it would be forty years before the second was scored by none other then Graeme Pollock. At the age of 42 years and 294 days he became the oldest South African to score a test century which even today, fifty one years after his death, still appears in the record books. His eighth wicket partnership with E. A. Halliwell set in 1902/3 at the Wanderers against Australia is the South African record and for tests against Australia his fourth wicket partnership of 206 runs set in 1921/22 with C. E. Frank still stands unbeaten. Another remarkable feature of his career is that from the time he played his first match against the English tourists in 1899 until his retirement from active play eight touring teams from that country had come to South Africa and Dave Nourse had played against them all.

Perhaps his greatest achievement though was the birth of his son, Dudley, who was born while Dave was busy scoring an undefeated double century away in Australia on the 1910/11 tour. Dudley was to follow his father into the South African side playing 34 tests in all, scoring 2960 runs at an average of 51.53, which places him in the top rank. In all Dudley scored nine test centuries, the highest on record for South Africa. He also led this country fifteen times in tests. Between Dave and Dudley they are perhaps the greatest of all father and son cricketing combinations.

Father Dave, however was very much a hard taskmaster from the old school for when Dudley was still a young boy he asked the old man for some advice on the art of batting.

Dave’s response was ‘I learned to play cricket with a paling of a fence. Now you go and do the same’. That was the total extent of his role in developing his sons talent. Obviously this rebuff made Dudley a very determined young man for he made his way in cricket on his own. The first time that Dave saw his son bat was in the 1931/32 season when Dudley was already playing for Natal and Western Province, with Dave in the side came up to Durban to play a Currie Cup match at Kingsmead. Shortly after Dudley came into bat the Province captain put Dave on to bowl. This was the first time in any form of cricket, including that played in the backyard at home, that the father had bowled to the son. Dudley was able to withstand the pressure and eventually recorded his maiden first class century. There were no dramatics on the field either when this happened. All Dave did was to quietly say from first slip where he was fielding ‘Son I hope there will be many more to follow this one’.

Dave, which was his nickname from childhood days and which had stuck causing him to adopt it officially to become known as Arthur David Nourse, had a varied career off the cricket field ranging from being a soldier, policeman, railway guard, billiard marker and saloon keeper to that of a commercial traveller and manager of a sport’s shop. At one stage, when Dudley was only fourteen, he arranged for the whole family to emigrate to Australia but his wife fell seriously ill at the last moment so the move was put off. His final occupation was that of cricket coach to the University of Cape Town for whom he played until he was over sixty. Once he was unable to play the game it affected him badly and just eleven years after giving up first class cricket he passed away just missing seeing his son captain his country for the first time.

Sources: 1.History of South African Cricket. - M. W. Luckin. 2.South African Cricket 1919 to 1927. - M. W. Luckin. 3.South African Cricket 1927 to 1947. - Louis Duffus. 4.Cricket in the Blood. - Dudley Nourse. 5.The Wisden Book of Cricketer’s Lives. - Edited by Benny Green. 6.Protea Assurance SA Cricket Annual ’96. - Edited by Colin Bryden. 7.South Africa in International Cricket 1888-1970. - Brian Bassano. 8.The Wisden Book of Test Cricket 1876-1978. - Edited by Bill Frindall. 9.The Complete Who’s Who of Test Cricketers. - Christopher Martin-Jenkins. 10.The Wisden Illustrated History of Test Cricket. - Vic Marks.